The need to protect our outdoors
By ERIC SHARP Detroit Free Press | January 28,2007
DETROIT — When I was a kid, if you talked about conservationists (no one said environmentalist then), you were talking about outdoorsmen who tried to preserve wildlife and the places those creatures lived.
The wisest of them, people such as Aldo Leopold, an avid hunter, early ecologist and author of the seminal "A Sand County Almanac, " were among the first to argue for the interconnectedness of all life forms and the landscapes they inhabit. He understood that to have a healthy deer herd, we needed healthy deer habitat, and that habitat was an extremely complex web including far more than the animals we wanted to shoot or hook.
Yet more than 50 years after I first read "A Sand County Almanac," many hunters and anglers express disdain for the environmental movement. I suspect that's not because they disagree with its precepts but because they disagree with the politics of non-hunting, non-fishing activists and don't want to be identified with them.
That's a big mistake on the part of traditional outdoors people, because those other folks outnumber us three or four to one, and we need their support to ensure we can continue to hunt and fish as we like. And I believe passionately that as hunters and anglers, we have a greater obligation as environmentalists, because we understand the issues better than almost any other segment of our society.
Nowhere has the split between outdoorsmen and environmentalists been more evident than in the debate over global warming. Many anglers and hunters have exhibited an adherence to a conservative line, which for years denied the existence of global warming but has shifted to the argument that yes, it's happening, but it's not as much or as rapidly as most scientists say.
But outdoors people find themselves facing a major change in conservative thinking, because last week 86 prominent evangelical Christian leaders and groups, who represent millions of mostly conservative Americans, demanded that the Bush administration and the public take global warming seriously and give it the attention it deserves.
Even more telling, the Christian leaders and organizations joined forces with a coalition of scientists, agreeing to ignore differences over evolution and creationism to present a united front to President Bush on global warming.
Whenever I talk to Michigan groups, the question of global warming usually comes up. And someone argues that there's a lot of disagreement among scientists over whether global warming is happening.
That's not true. There is disagreement over how fast it's happening, how extreme the effects will be and how big a role we humans are playing, but global warming has gained virtual universal acceptance among climate scientists.
The naysayers are those whose theories are trotted out by businesses and individuals with economic and political reasons for opposing the growing body of evidence.
We in the news media inadvertently fostered the idea of dissension among scientists on this issue. In our effort to present a "balanced" view in stories about global warming, reporters often found someone to quote whose views were in opposition to mainstream scientists.
But as we were told 50 years ago by Edward R. Murrow, one of the America's greatest journalists, "Some stories only have one side."
In a story about the first landing on the moon, no editor would expect me to get balancing comments from kooks who say it was faked in a movie studio.
Global warming will affect hunters and anglers. The Earth has warmed and cooled many times in the past, but this time it's warming so fast that experts fear many creatures won't have time to adapt. No matter which computer model you choose, global warming is going to have an effect on the things we outdoors types like to do and the natural world we love.
That's why we have to get involved. Let the government know that you oppose corporate welfare in the form of tax breaks for oil companies that would rather rake in profits from polluting the air than spend money on research in new energy sources.
Tell your representatives and senators to start looking further ahead than their next election campaign and start imagining the kind of world our grandchildren and great-grandchildren might inherit.
If outdoors people won't take the lead in this fight, who will?